How can students support waste management on campus?

By Lily Perez, Contributing Writer

Have you ever placed something in a recycling bin and wondered what happens next? Does it actually get recycled, or does it just get tossed in the landfill without ever being sorted out?

Students said it can be hard to be committed to sustainability when resources to do so are not always clear.

Adeline Hoegberg, junior in FAA, said she does not have a lot of knowledge about where the trash on campus is taken or how big of a difference the University is making with their waste management systems.

“I’ve heard that all of the recycling would just end up in the normal trash,” Hoegberg said.

The Waste Transfer Station in Champaign filters out around 30% of the trash that comes in, but still sends around 50 pounds to the landfill each day. This is not taking into account busier times like holidays and move-in days for students.

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    The Waste Transfer Station is located just off of St. Mary’s Road in Champaign and takes in trash from all various places on campus. This includes instructional facilities, University Housing, Illini Union and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.

    Daphne Hulse works as the Facilities & Services zero waste coordinator, a new position focused on decreasing the amount of waste that goes through the University. Hulse works on various outreach projects, including hosting tours of the Waste Transfer Station.

    “These tours are a really unique opportunity to illuminate to the broader campus community what goes on after you put something in the bin,” Hulse said.

    Adam Soper, senior in FAA, recalled seeing several recycling places on campus but, like many other students, hasn’t heard of the Waste Transfer Station on campus.

    “I know all the dorms have dedicated recycling bins,” Soper said. “But I’m not necessarily sure where those get dumped to.”

    Another program that Hulse is facilitating in collaboration with Coca-Cola and the DIA is the “Fighting Illini, Fighting Waste” campaign. This campaign has students volunteer at basketball games to encourage recycling at sporting events. The last zero waste basketball game was March 2 and had 100 volunteers.

    “(We’re) creating that general awareness for sustainability in an audience with not just students but townies, out of state folks and athletic rivals,” Hulse said.

    Despite these programs, it can be hard for students to recycle on campus and even more so on their own where businesses and residencies don’t provide recycling services. Along with a lack of opportunity, some students feel that recycling doesn’t have a huge impact.

    “I’m under the strong feeling that you can’t solely rely on us recycling,” Hoegberg said. “It’s more about the corporations if you really want to fix things.”

    Soper said he would most likely not see discernible difference in a world without recycling.

    “It wouldn’t be a whole lot different because the recycling practices aren’t widespread enough to be making a huge impact on the scale that we’d be able to really see,” Soper said.

    Hulse recognizes that sustainability can seem isolating at times but encourages students to join organizations and communities that bring collective action. She highlighted the RSO Project4Less, whose members package leftover food in good condition and ship it out to food assistance programs in the surrounding area.

    “The human connection component of climate change is so important,” Hulse said. “I think we often feel stuck by ‘what can I do as an individual’ in this global planetary crisis.”

    Aside from joining sustainability-focused communities, Hulse also recommends learning what people can about what’s happening in the community and leading by example.  

    “We know reduce, reuse, recycle. But what about at the start of all of that, refuse,” Hulse said. “What could you refuse in your day-to-day life and start small. For example, I know students really enjoy coffee and many, many, many places around campus will take your reusable cup.”

    Hulse was particularly inspired by her mother who showed her that small habits, like using reusable bags at the grocery store, can make a big change. Hulse encourages students to look for that positive influence around them and wants students to be that influence in their own sustainability journey.

    “A community that is pursuing zero waste imperfectly is far better than a few individuals doing it perfectly,” Hulse said.

     

     

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